Show Love for the Environment When Doing Your Laundry

Laundry has traditionally been neglected when people consider energy and water conservation. However, 81,000 gigawatt hours of electricity and 2.4 trillion gallons of water are consumed each year in the U.S. by laundry, and this generates 13 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. At Harvard, we also incur high consumption of electricity and water for laundry – but fortunately, our usage is not as high as it was several years ago.

In 2004, Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Science (FAS) Resource Efficiency Program (REP) proposed to change the laundry system in the College. FAS then began investigating the potential for a complete replacement of its old, top-loading washing machines with energy-efficient front-loaders. Keenly aware of the potential benefit of new-generation of Energy Starr washing machines, FAS and Harvard Operations successfully convinced its washer/dryer provider, MacGray Corporation, to upgrade all its washers to the Maytag Neptune. Compared to conventional models, the Maytag Neptune uses less than half the water, provides space for larger loads, and uses 60% less energy for heating, which has generated an annual cost avoidance of $67,650. The successful installation of the Maytag Neptune washers with FAS has led to their installation across the entire Harvard campus.

Although installing more efficient washing machines has decreased consumption of both energy and water, every student on campus can help increase the magnitude of this effort by making simple changes. To assist students with their efforts, the Graduate Green Living Program (GGLP) has posted signs in laundry rooms showing residents how they can use the laundry machines efficiently, as well as make other environment-friendly laundry choices.

The Green Living Representatives will soon launch a laundry quiz to test and hopefully improve their peers’ laundry knowledge, with prizes including eco-friendly (vegetable-based, biodegradable, and phosphate free) laundry detergent. To further promote care for the environment while doing laundry, GGLP will give away samples of droppsT, self-dissolving pouches of eco-friendly laundry detergent that create less waste than jug and cup detergents. Please keep an eye out for the outreach efforts of the Green Living Representatives and prepare to participate!

Here are just a few of the ways we can reduce energy and water use and show our love for the environment when doing our laundry.

Cold water washing works. People instinctively think hot water is better at removing stains than cold water. In fact, many stains will become permanent if exposed to hot water. Always choose cold water for the rinse cycle, as warm or hot water in the rinse cycle does not make clothes any cleaner. Cold-water washing can be adequate in many cases, especially if you use an enzymatic detergent. Don’t overlook the savings from correcting this small misconception. In the U.S., heating water accounts for 85-90% of the energy consumed by a clothes washer! As some friends have pointed out, in parts of developed countries including Australia, hot water is not even connected to washing machines.

Two tablespoons of soap achieve the best result. Many people also believe that they can make clothes cleaner if they use higher levels of soap or detergent. Overuse of detergent can lead to a longer wash cycle and wet, soapy clothes after washing, resulting in “burnt” clothing in the dryer. It may also cause skin allergies. The surfactants in most detergents are still derived from petroleum, so the environmental damage starts with drilling, spilling, and refining oil-and can end with toxic residues contaminating our water and soil. For best results, only 2 tablespoons of soap are needed in high-efficiency washers, like those at Harvard. Use of concentrated laundry detergent is highly recommended. By 2008, almost all liquid laundry detergent will be sold in small concentrated bottles which helps protect the environment.

Choose high-efficiency (HE) washers. The conventional washers (that make up that vast majority of the washers in the U.S.) use 32 gallons of water per load. HE washers such as Maytag Neptune use 15 to 18 gallons of water per load. HE washers reduce drying time by 21% and use 60% less energy for heating. When it comes time to purchase your own washing machine, do buy a HE washer. Although more expensive at the time of purchase, they are more economically sound from a life-time perspective and it is much better to the environment.

Clean the lint filter before drying. Many people do not realize that the lint filter should be cleaned before drying. The lint sticks to the filter and traps humid air inside, thus hindering the drying process. By simply cleaning the lint filter before drying clothes you will reduce energy use by up to 30%! This process can also extend the life of the dryer and prevent potential fires.

It’s not hard to conclude that little changes make a big impact on the environment. So all of us should learn more and do more! It’s easy to show our love for the environment!